Interview: June Pitman-Hayes talks about There's a Bear in the Window
June Pitman-Hayes is a creative writer, singer-songwriter/lyricist and published poet. Of Ngāti Pūkenga, Ngāpuhi, Ngāti Wai, and Ngāti Maniapoto descent, June is one of Aotearoa’s well-known jazz singers having performed at many events and festivals throughout the country. June is the musical voice to Joy Cowley’s Hush: A Kiwi Lullaby and is the author/musician of Tāwhirimātea: A Song for Matariki, Kia Ora – You can be a Kiwi too, My Kiwi Gumboots, and Kia Kaha! - Together, standing strong, all Scholastic NZ titles. June talks to NZ Booklovers.
Tell us a little about There’s a Bear in the Window?
There’s a Bear in the Window is the result of chronic writer’s block. I’d been given a brief to consider writing to which was more along the lines of observing the changes that were happening within nature as a result of the throb of everyday human life being forced to a standstill by 2020’s Covid-19 lockdown. No matter what creative avenue I went down, I came to a dead end. Nothing seemed to want to flow easily regardless of how visually stimulated my creative brain seemed to be. It all became a bit too serious, but then Covid-19 was a serious subject to write about! How do I create something fun and engaging out of something so life-altering? Two rejections later and poised on the brink of defeat, during the early hours of one very wet wintery morning these words crossed my mind – ‘Don’t give up! Try a different approach’. I listened, and this book is the end result.
What inspired you to write this book?
I grabbed my laptop, turned it on and typed into Google ‘What made children in New Zealand smile during lockdown?’ Several responses popped up, but the one that stood out the most was ‘The Bear in the Window’ bear hunt that New Zealander’s got completely engaged in. Bears were popping up everywhere. Adults and children were well ‘into it’, and having fun despite Covid-19 lurking around. This is what I wanted to write! A book about fun in the face of Covid-19. Aue! The cure to my writer’s block was so incredibly simple! All I had to do was step out of my own way, look at things from a different view point, and write!
What research was involved?
Very little research was necessary. The media was active in sharing daily community stories where bears were involved, keeping everyone updated on changes taking place all around - birdsong back in the cities, animals coming close to town, mountains, seas and skies cleaner, clearer, brighter, etc. Social distancing street parties, exercise routines, ex-pat New Zealanders yearning to be home with their families, and so on. And bears do exude that ‘warm comfort of home’ feeling regardless of how young or old we are.
What was the process with the Illustrator to create this book?
The idea is to let the Illustrator create by sharing just enough of my creative writing process, to assist her in formulating her own perspectives. We seem to reach common ground very easily which always amazes me.
What do you hope children will take away from the book after reading?
This book opens up opportunities for children to explore their powers of observation, increase awareness, encouragement to see beyond the immediately visible, notice detail, be inquisitive, ask questions, seek answers, and most of all use their imagination.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
I enjoyed a moment of complete self-indulgence which included a lovely glass of red wine.
What is the favourite book you’ve read this year and why?
The Lost Gutenberg by Margaret Leslie Davis. ‘The astounding true story of one book’s five hundred year odyssey’ a powerful ‘hook’ on the cover, delivered on its promise! When walking across Spain some years back, I visited the Castillo of the Knights Templar where I had opportunity to view rare books exhibited there. This book’s cover reminded me of that travel ‘gem’ experience
What’s next on the agenda for you?
Having recently returned home to ancestral land with my faithful Christmas cat in tow, I’m currently in the process of clearing toxic plant infestation to enable the restoration of native bush, rongoā and kai gardening, creating beautiful spaces filled with magic, that I’m sure will be a constant source of inspiration for future works. The ideas are never far away. I’m sure Christmas, a most curious cat, will feature in one or more of these.